Happy 81st Birthday to my Dad!

Today, May 25, 2011, my father, Harold J. Beckwith, turns 81!  To the right is a picture of my Dad, me, and my brother Jim in front of our Mercedes Benz with Caesar’s Palace in the background.  We were at Caesar’s having lunch following my First Holy Communion in May 1968. At the bottom left is a picture of me, my wife, Frankie, and my parents last November in Las Vegas. 

Here is what I say about my father in Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic:

We lived pretty standard American Catholic lives for the era, with Vegas and its culture being incidental to our home life and our relationship with our parents.  However, my parents were, and are, instinctively charitable people, revealing something from the Church and its teachings that had been placed deeply in their hearts.   For example, whenever one of the Casellas [our cousins] needed a place to stay, my parents took them in, oftentimes for a few days, sometimes for months and even years! My parents treated my cousins as if they were their own sons, and none of us ever felt deprived for that. In fact, I’m confident that my parents’ spirit of generosity enhanced, rather than diminished, the love we had for one another.  For this reason, some in the family would on occasion jokingly refer to our home as “Boys’ Town.”

We always seemed to have guests over for Sunday dinner, which consisted of my Sicilian mother’s pasta and meatballs. These dinner guests ranged from friends and relatives to the friends and acquaintances of friends and relatives. Guests were entertained by (or forced to hear, depending on one’s sense of humor) my father and his many jokes and stories. A Korean War Veteran, my father had done some emceeing and stand-up comedy while serving in the U. S. Army.  Whatever comedic skills he acquired while working for Uncle Sam, they were not missing in action when he returned to the states. It made our home a wonderful place in which to grow up….

Although I was too young to remember the presidency of John F. Kennedy, my father made sure we listened to the late president’s 1961 inaugural address, one of the great political speeches in American history. On several occasions, my father played the recording of Kennedy’s speech on our old family turntable. As in other matters, my father also had a sense of humor about politics. When I was eight years old I asked him to explain to me the difference between communism and capitalism. He answered, “Well, son, in America, a capitalist country, some people own Cadillacs and some people don’t. But in communist countries like the Soviet Union, everyone is treated equally, and no one owns a Cadillac”….

As I grew older and began to develop my own political opinions, my parents exhibited a level of tolerance and openness that was exemplary. While my father and I became more conservative in our views over the years, my mother remained a moderate Democrat (as she is today). However, my conservatism, ironically, developed out of my liberalism. I was taught by my parents that one of the roles of government was to protect the “little guy” and to make sure that those not well off should be given a chance to succeed and make a decent living. But in my early twenties I began to notice that self-described liberals had no interest in protecting the littlest guy of all, the unborn, and that they often advanced policies that inhibited economic growth, and thus harmed those who most needed the wealth produced by free markets, the poor and the underprivileged. So, for me, true liberalism is conservative, for it strives to protect and nurture, indeed conserve, those people, institutions, and practices that advance the common good and thus provide a framework for human flourishing.

I have so many fond memories of growing up. One in particular left an indelible mark. In the summer of 1972 I played the position of catcher on a Little League baseball team.  Although I was a pretty good defensive player, I was a terrible hitter.  My parents knew this, since they attended my games and heard me complain about my numerous strikeouts.  In order to remedy this, my parents went into action. My mother—a vivacious reader—bought me a book on hitting authored by the great Boston Red Sox player, Ted Williams.  My father sat me down and told me that we would both read the book and then after completing it, spend two hours every night for a week at the local batting cages, putting Williams’ lessons into action.  We read the book and went to the cages. My father meticulously went over Williams’ lessons, and he did so with great patience, for I was given to emotional outbursts if I did not succeed the first time I faced the mechanical pitcher.  In the face of such tantrums, my father employed his disarming sense of humor while he remained encouraging and yet determined.  By the end of the week, I was easily hitting 60-mile per hour fastballs. I was ready.

At the next Little League game, I had my chance. The bases were loaded. We were down by two runs, and it was the bottom of the last inning. At my turn to bat, I swung and hit a line drive that was bounding over the third baseman’s head. He jumped as high as he could, and with perfect timing caught the ball at the tip of his glove. The game ended, and we lost. Although I was disappointed in losing, for the first time that season I actually hit the ball hard and with confidence, and, in this case, nearly won the game for my team.  For the rest of the season my batting average hovered around .400, and I had become a legitimate offensive threat.  The next season I had the second highest batting average on the team. What I learned from my parents was the importance of doing things well and to do so patiently and carefully with deliberate determination….

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